Politics

Biden heads to Georgia to escalate partisan fight over U.S. election laws


President Biden plans to journey to Georgia on Tuesday to drum up support for a Democratic rewriting of the nation’s election laws and accuse Republicans of curtailing voting rights.

A partisan showdown over election laws has become the Democrats’ top priority after the demise last month of Mr. Biden’s $1.75 trillion social justice and climate bill, which was the centerpiece of his domestic agenda.

In Atlanta, Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will lay a wreath at the crypt of Martin Luther King Jr. before delivering a speech on voting rights, cementing the issue at the forefront of Democrats’ agenda for the 2022 midterm elections.

“The President will forcefully advocate for protecting the most bedrock American right,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “The right to vote and have your voice counted in a free fair and secure election that is not tainted by partisan manipulation.”

Republicans said the trip is part of a coordinated campaign to delegitimize the upcoming midterm elections, which are expected to be difficult for Democrats.

“They’ve created a false narrative that somehow states in 2020 and in the past couple of election cycles have not been capable of running a fair election,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

Mr. Biden will be making the case for passing the Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Act.

The Freedom to Vote Act mandates that states offer same-day voter registration as well as automatic voter registration at local departments of motor vehicles. It also creates a taxpayer-backed public-financing system for House elections and imposes new restrictions on the ability of states to draw their electoral districts.

The John Lewis Voting Act would grant the Justice Department sweeping new powers to oversee state elections. In some cases, according to the bill, states would even have to secure the DOJ’s approval before implementing new voting laws.

“It’s not a voting rights bill. It’s a sprawling, sweeping takeover of our democracy,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “The same attorney general … whose Department of Justice tries to intimidate parents, will be handed new powers to micromanage election law.”

Mr. Biden plans to juxtapose the two bills with a recently passed measure by Georgia’s GOP-run legislature. The new law streamlines the requirements for regular and absentee voting and adds ballot security measures.  

Voters seeking absentee ballots are now required to provide proof of identification, a common practice in most countries and already required for day-of voting in Georgia. Previously, voters had to ensure only that the signature on their absentee ballot matched the signature on file with local elections officials.

Georgia’s law also expands early voting to weekends, ensuring that residents will have a maximum of 19 days before a primary or general election to cast ballots. The bill further expands the use of ballot drop-off boxes. It also mandates that each of the state’s 159 counties have a minimum number of drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots.

“A lot of things that we’re dealing with in this bill are because we just had a global pandemic, and it changed the way elections operate in Georgia,” said Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican chief executive. “Before this election, we never had [absentee ballot] drop boxes. And if we hadn’t put drop boxes in this bill, there would be no drop boxes going forward.”

One of the biggest fights over the bill is over a prohibition on political organizations handing out food and water within 150 feet of a polling location or 25 feet of a voter. In the November election, political groups were soliciting voters to their cause outside polling locations with items inscribed with a particular candidate’s message, symbol or likeness.

The new law makes such political advertising at the polls a misdemeanor offense. Mr. Biden alleges the legislation is a throwback to the era of racial segregation.

“He’s quite focused on ensuring the American people understand what is at stake here,” said Mrs. Psaki. “What is at stake for voters in Georgia and other states across the country and why this is so imperative to move forward.”

GOP lawmakers said the rhetoric from the White House and congressional Democrats is delegitimizing the elections process ahead of the 2022 midterms.

“President Biden, the left and the national media are determined to destroy the sanctity and security of the ballot box,” said Mr. Kemp.

Adding to concerns that the rhetoric undermines voters’ faith in the election system is that the Democrats’ legislation has little chance of becoming law.

Lack of Republican support dooms the bills in the Senate unless Democrats muster enough support to blow up the filibuster rule and force the legislation through in party-line votes.

“If [Republicans] continue to hijack the rules of the Senate to turn this chamber into a deep freezer, we’re going to consider the appropriate steps necessary to restore the Senate so we can pass these proposals and send them to the president’s desk,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

For the effort to succeed, Mr. Schumer would need support from all 50 Senate Democrats to deploy the “nuclear option” of changing the long-standing filibuster rules that give the minority party some power in the upper chamber.

It remains uncertain whether all 50 Democrats would fall in line with the move.




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